College football is back! And to celebrate the new season, For the Win has ranked the 20 best coaches in the country, starting at No. 1…
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Forget about Saban being the best coach in 2016, he’s complied quite the case for being the best coach of all time. He’s a master recruiter with an NFL pedigree in X’s and O’s, and you cannot deny the success he’s had over the last two decades. “Five national titles” is really the only argument we need to justify Saban’s spot atop these rankings.
2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State. Anywhere Meyer goes, he creates a winner. He does not get enough credit for keeping an Ohio State program that was teetering on disaster toward the end of the Jim Tressel era on top of the Big Ten. In only 11 years spent coaching Power Five teams, Meyer already has three national titles to his name.
3. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Maybe we’re jumping the gun with Harbaugh here at No. 3. After all, he’s only been in Ann Arbor for just over a year. But does anyone NOT think he’s going to turn Michigan into an annual national title contender? I didn’t think so. His coaching style — which some NFL players found grating — is perfect for the college level. Harbaugh has been a beast on the recruiting trail, and has the coaching chops to take advantage of all that talent he’s bringing in.
4. Gary Patterson, TCU
If it wasn’t for Saban, Patterson would be the resident Defensive Genius in college football. His 4-2-5 defense with split-field coverages has been emulated across college football. And give him credit for hiring a couple of Air Raid guys — Doug Meacham and Sonny Combs — to run his offense.
5. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
If we were doing these rankings, say, 10 years ago, Stoops is easily in the top two. Oklahoma has continued to be relevant but just isn’t the power it was back in the early to mid-2000s. And Stoops’ 8-9 record in bowl games is troubling.
6. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney could jump a few spots if the Tigers are able to duplicate what they did a year ago. They certainly have the talent to do so thanks to Swinney’s recruiting.
7. David Shaw, Stanford
Shaw might have the highest degree of difficulty for any coach on this list — actually that goes to No. 18. But still, that Shaw has been able to keep the Stanford program going strong after Harbaugh left for the NFL is a testament to his coaching ability.
8. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Dantonio has done the impossible: He helped the Spartans surpass Michigan as the preeminent team in the state. And he’s done it by churning out 11-win seasons year-after-year. After three years getting the program off the ground, Dantonio has won at least 11 games five of the last six years, including 2015’s run to the College Football Playoff.
9. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Maybe Fisher should be a little higher on this list. He does have a national championship on his resume. But we want to see him put together another dominant squad in the post-Jameis Winston era. If he does that, he definitely deserves a spot in the top five.
10. Mark Richt, Miami
Yes, Richt’s teams tend to underachieve, but the guys has longevity and a track record for producing good football teams. And now he’s out of the SEC, where he doesn’t have to compete against the Alabamas and LSUs of the world. He’ll get Miami back where it should be.
11. Les Miles, LSU
Miles was nearly fired after last season’s collapse, which would have been a mistake. Miles has kept the Tigers relevant in the hellish SEC, and the roster is always stacked with NFL talent. And we here at For the Win like a coach who isn’t afraid to take risks late in games.
12. Chris Petersen, Washington
In his third year in Seattle, Petersen has the Huskies ready to start competing for the Pac-12 North title. If he can get Washington anywhere near the heights Boise State reached under Petersen, he’ll be handed the keys to national power very soon.
13. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Kelly hasn’t quite capitalized on the success the Irish enjoyed in 2012, when he led them to a national title game appearance, but the program has not been this stable in decades. Also of note, Kelly produced an undefeated season at Cincinnati. That’s worth something.
14. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Say what you want about Petrino the person, but the dude knows how to coach offenses. He got the Louisville program off the ground during his first tenure, and he’s kept it afloat after Charlie Strong left for Texas.
15. Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Let’s see any of the coaches under Snyder on this list win at Kansas State. And keep it going for three decades.
16. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
He’s a man, and next year he’ll be 50. After some, um, rocky times at Oklahoma State, Gundy has the Cowboys back competing for Big 12 title. His offenses always produce; if he could only build a good defense, he’d be near the top 10.
17. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Ferentz has done as good a job at Iowa as anyone could expect. It’s not exactly a recruiting hotbed, but Ferentz still manages to get the Hawkeyes relevant every couple of years.
18. David Cutcliffe, Duke
He’s winning at Duke. In football. And he was the mentor to one of the greatest quarterbacks we’ve ever seen.
19. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Bielema likes to talk, but don’t let that distract from the success he’s had as a coach at Wisconsin and what he’s now building at Arkansas.
20. Tom Herman, Houston
OK, so he’s only spent one season as a head coach, but he went 13-1 and has produced dominant offenses everywhere he’s been. That includes Ohio State, whose offense took a step back after Herman left for the Houston job. That’s not a coincidence. Another 13-win season is coming for the Cougars.
Honorable mention: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss; Jim McElwain, Florida; Mike Leach, Washington State; Kyle Whittingham, Utah; Mark Helfrich, Oregon; Dan Mullen, Mississippi State; Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern; Gus Malzahn, Auburn; Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Source: USA Today Fan Sports Poll